America's Two-Tiered Marriage Reality

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In 1920, the marriage rate in the United States stood at 92.3, meaning that there were 92.3 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women aged 15 and older. By 1970, the marriage rate had fallen to 76.5. Since then, marriage has been in a downward spiral, falling by more than half to an all-time low of 31.1.

According to a Bowling Green State University study called "Marriage: More than a Century of Change," the proportion of American women who are married is also at an all-time low. In 1950, about 65 percent of U.S. women aged 15 and over were married; today, only 47 percent are married. Also, the age at which women are marrying is at an all-time high, at 26.6 years.1

The researchers used data from the National Vital Statistics "100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics United States 1867-1967," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Looking closer at the data, it's clear that while the marriage rate is declining for the nation as a whole, there are significant differences in the population based on ethnic and educational backgrounds.

In the 1950s, 64 to 69 percent of women of all ethnic groups were married. Since then, the decline in the marriage rate has been relatively modest for Asian women, of whom 56 percent are now married, and for white women, of whom 50 percent are married today.

Alarmingly, the decline was much sharper for Hispanic women, at 43 percent, and for black women, at 26 percent.

The study also found that, in 1940, there was only a 17 percent difference between the highest and lowest proportion of women who were married according to how much education they had completed. But by 2011, the difference had soared to 73 percent.

Currently, women with a bachelor's degree are most likely to be married, at 60 percent. Those with either only a high school diploma or some college are less likely, at 48 percent, while only 28 percent of women with less than a high school diploma are married.

What are the reasons for the declines in marriage rates? Several studies point to possible answers.

For example, a study by University of Virginia and Harvard University researchers found that the disappearance of stable, unionized full-time jobs with health insurance and pensions for people who lack a college degree has had profound effects on working-class Americans—who now are less likely to get married, stay married, and have their children within marriage than those with college degrees...

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